Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Seyler, Albert Jakob (1913–1977)

by Graeme Osborne

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

Albert Jakob Seyler (1913-1977), telecommunications scientist, was born on 24 July 1913 at Dudweiler, Saarland, Germany, only child of Jakob Johannes Seyler, railway official, and his wife Elizabeth Katarina, née Schmidt. Albert learned French at an early age, and was fond of music and outdoor pursuits. At Ludwigs Gymnasium, Saarbrücken, he studied Latin, Greek, mathematics and science. Graduating in 1932, he won a scholarship to the Technische Hochschule, Munich, where he obtained a diploma in electrical engineering in 1938.

Employed by the Flugfunk-Forshungsinstitut (Aeronautical Wireless Communication Research Institute) at Oberpfaffenhofen, near Munich, Seyler initially undertook research into air navigational aids, especially wireless. During World War II, with the rank of captain (March 1941) in the Luftwaffe, he worked as a radar engineer in France, Norway and Italy. He developed a radar-controlled method for guiding night-fighters from the ground, and designed radar-jamming equipment and transmission stations. In Munich on 27 October 1941 he married Franciska Georgiana Klapperich, a secretary at the Forshungsinstitut.

At the end of the war Seyler was interned briefly by the British Army, but soon found a job as a radio engineer at the American airbase at Oberpfaffenhofen. In December 1947 he was contracted under the Australian government's programme of employing 'enemy aliens' with scientific and technical backgrounds. At the time of his recruitment he was described as 'tall', 'angular', 'well built' and 'somewhat serious'. A security check confirmed his involvement as a student in several National Socialist organizations. Seyler rejected militarism and made a commitment to science for socially constructive purposes. He chose Australia in preference to other nations offering him settlement because he believed that he was less likely to be employed on defence projects there. He later refused to allow his son to belong to the cadet corps at school.

In 1948 Seyler arrived in Melbourne where he joined the research laboratories of the Postmaster-General's Department. Acquiring excellent English, he worked as a member of the team engaged in planning for the introduction of television in 1956. He was quick to recognize the inappropriateness of the P.M.G.'s techniques for testing television generation and transmission facilities, and steered his section toward finding the best frequency to use. In the early 1950s he contributed to the development of an innovative concept for waveform testing, and later produced the first solid state operational 'pulse and bar' waveform test-signal generator. He also conducted research into video transmission circuits and relay links. In 1956 he was responsible for ensuring that Sydney received television pictures of the Olympic Games in Melbourne by arranging for a commercial airliner, equipped with a radio transponder, to circle over the Australian Alps. His work helped to establish the P.M.G. laboratories as a major contributor to television-signal research.

Seyler was naturalized in 1955. He studied at the University of Melbourne (M.Elec.Eng., 1956; D.App.Sc., 1966), and added to the stature of the P.M.G. laboratories by his publications and his participation in conferences. The Institution of Radio and Electronics Engineers Australia twice awarded him the annual Norman W. V. Hayes memorial medal (1960 and 1964) for the most meritorious paper published in its Proceedings. In 1964 he became assistant director general of the research laboratories, a post which he held until his death. Some colleagues found him 'arrogant' and 'impatient'; others considered him to be an 'inspirational' and 'remarkable scientist' who delighted in solving complex problems. As early as 1954 he had examined over-the-horizon high frequency radio and broad-band communication by means of a geo-stationary satellite.

In the 1960s Seyler began to receive widespread recognition for his achievements. A fellow (1967) and president (1972) of the I.R.E.E.A., he was a member (from 1964) of the faculty of engineering at Monash University and an honorary consultant in communication engineering (from 1966) at the University of Adelaide. He was also a foundation fellow (1975) of the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences, and an adviser to Bell Telephone Laboratories, United States of America (1968-69), and Bell-Northern Research, Canada (1973-74), on human communication systems and teleconferencing.

Although he was convinced of the potential of modern technology to overcome communication problems, Seyler was concerned at the dangers arising from the misuse of this knowledge. He appreciated the importance of interdisciplinary approaches to understanding the impact of technology on human beings and was a committed conservationist. A skilled carpenter and gardener, he had built his own home at Burwood, before moving to Emerald. He died of coronary vascular disease on 26 April 1977 at Emerald and was buried in Springvale cemetery; his wife and their son survived him. Tom Grochowiak's portrait (1944) of Seyler is held privately.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Moyal, Clear Across Australia (Melb, 1984)
  • Institute of Radio and Electronics Engineers Australia, Proceedings, 1964-65
  • Australian Academy of Technological Sciences, Annual Report, 1976-77
  • Telecom Research Laboratories, Annual Report, 1977
  • U. von Homeyer, The Recruitment, Deployment and Experiences of German Scientists in the Post World War Two Period: An Historical Evaluation (M.A. thesis, Flinders University, 1995)
  • A6119, item 1047 and MT105/8, item 1/6/3707 (National Archives of Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

Graeme Osborne, 'Seyler, Albert Jakob (1913–1977)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/seyler-albert-jakob-11660/text20831, published in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 3 September 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

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